5 thoughts on “Faculty Diversity

  1. If you received you BA from a smaller, undergraduate focused program, one thing you might consider doing is letting your old department know that its graduates care about this. I let my old school know that while the faculty has increased since I was there, I was quite disappointed to see it had become no more diverse. They did actually seem to care that I was concerned about this and perhaps students who have gone on in the field carry some special force in expressing desires for change. It’s worth a shot, at any rate.

  2. I came to grad school from a small women’s college with a diverse undergraduate population and a diverse-by-the-standards-of-academics philosophy faculty. This resulted in some pleasant misconceptions about professional philosophy.

    It also meant I never felt unwelcome in philosophy, or like I didn’t have a right to it – both generally as a list of books to read, but also particularly, as a discipline.

    It’s an experience of security I wish more women had. Though it’s also made the insecurity many women do feel a bit opaque to me. (On an experiential, not conceptual, level.)

  3. I was curious if someone might care to comment: I always feel somewhat perplexed by the fact that people don’t feel comfortable, like they don’t belong, unwelcome, etc., if they don’t find people like them in certain respects. I don’t doubt it, but I’m just curious about the exact reasons. Is it treatment? Tendencies in interests? Just a general feeling?
    As a straight, white male with a penchant for logic and language, it is alien territory to me! (Though I will say I have never felt any of these feelings studying under women.)

    Also, how might a person in my position best minimize these feelings while teaching women, minorities, etc? I try to always treat everyone the same, find some objectively verifiable checks on my behavior, grade without knowledge of student identities, and so on. But I don’t think those things quite fully address the issue.


  4. Prof. Manners — great suggestion!
    Anonymously Named — one of the comments Ned Markosian made at dailynous speaks to this point. When he spoke with his women students, many of them pointed out how a number of male students dominated the conversation, without necessarily really contributing worthwhile points. I take it Ned hadn’t himself noticed that this was happening. Women students tend not to be overbearing (experience-based generalization). So I think attention to classroom dynamics and intentionally making the discussion inclusive helps.

  5. Anonymously Named, I’m glad you’re here reading this blog.

    There are many reasons why people of color and white women feel excluded in philosophy classrooms where they find themselves in overwhelming minorities. Here are a few:

    1) They find themselves in the minority over, and over, and over again. Most or all of their professors are white men. Most of their fellow students are white men. Most or all of the philosophers whose work they read are white men. This makes it seems like philosophy is by and for white men, and they are merely being allowed to spectate.

    2) They are routinely assumed to be less intelligent, less competent, less knowledgeable. (These assumptions are often unconscious on the part of people who make them; we may be making such assumptions, and treating people differently as a result, even though the whole phenomenon is opaque to us. This is implicit bias.) They are not called on in class as often. When they do contribute to discussion, their ideas are often attributed to white men who bring up the same ideas later in the discussion. When their identities are known, they systematically receive lower grades. The effects of this systematic mistreatment are magnified when they are in an an overwhelming minority (also known as “solo status”).

    3) Courses in which matters of gender and race seem highly relevant often nonetheless ignore these issues, and thus ignore concerns that may be central for many students of color and white women. So, for instance, political philosophy is often presented as a debate among white men about ideal theories of justice, completely ignoring real histories of pervasive racial and gender injustice. Courses on personal identity often ignore the way the identity of a person may be experienced as centrally shaped by race and gender. Courses on philosophy of language often ignore the way that language can make central contributions to injustice.

    As for how to address these things, anonymous grading is a good start, as is managing discussion carefully (as Jackie Taylor mentions above). I’ve noticed that finding ways to give students credit for their ideas, by referring back to them by name later in the discussion, encourages them to feel that their contributions are valued. Giving encouraging feedback – e.g., sending someone an e-mail about their excellent written work or contribution to discussion – is helpful.

    Diversifying syllabi, too, is very important. This means diversifying both the social identities of the authors whose work is taught and diversifying the topics that are addressed. One doesn’t need to be an expert on, say, feminist philosophy of language or the philosophy of racial slurs to include units on these topics in an undergraduate philosophy of language class. One does, of course, need to take care to create an environment in which these topics will be addressed respectfully.

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